A (Tentative) Return from Hiatus & Updates!

Hello and happy 2019!

As you may have noticed, the last time this blog was updated was in July of 2017, so it has been quite the hiatus of a year and half here on Girl Knows Books. Since then, I’ve started attending college in Minnesota, declared a double major in literature and art history, acquired a terrifying amount of winter sweaters, and visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art more times than I can count (it’s a great museum, guys). Unfortunately, the blog has been one of the things that has ended up languishing in the meantime.

But! On the bright side, college has been pretty good so far. I have a fantastic roommate, and the English department at my school has coffee in the lounge all day, which is far too tempting. I took an African American lit class last semester, which I adored, and I’ll be starting another course with the same professor next week. Plus, I got to see both Janelle Monae and Mitski in concert last year, so my life is essentially complete.

I’ve met a lot of really great people, and I’m excited for the next semester, even though my course schedule makes me a tiny bit nervous. But, getting back into reading for fun during the winter break has made me really want to keep the blog at least somewhat up and running, in between reading for school and memorizing art history dates.

I’ve been updating the blog’s theme and About page (so now it says I’m a sophomore instead of a freshman!), and have started updating my Goodreads account more regularly, as well. While I’m not really setting a regular posting schedule, I’m hoping I’ll be able to at least manage my time between school and reading a little better, starting with a post about some of the books I’ve been reading while at home. (That should go up tomorrow!)

In any case, thank you for reading, and I hope you all have had a wonderful start to 2019!

Nora

P.S. Have I mentioned that Minnesota is beautiful in the fall?

On My Unabashed Love for The Song of the Lioness

Hi everyone! Hope you all have been having a lovely week so far. I’m currently in a house on a lake in rural Wisconsin, which is pretty cool, and am looking forward to devouring as many books as I can while I’m here. But in the meantime, I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about some of my absolute favorite books–the ones that I read years ago and loved, the ones that hold a special place in my heart just by virtue of how much they meant (and still mean) to me. And one series that especially stands out is The Song of the Lioness quartet, by Tamora Pierce.

The quartet chronicles the journey and battles of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl who, determined to become one of the strongest knights in Tortall, bravely and somewhat recklessly disguises herself as her brother in an effort to achieve that dream. This sets Alanna on a long and wild path, one that will involve everything from swordfighting, to magic, to prophecies and a role in protecting the kingdom that is much larger than she ever imagined. It’s an epic, wonderful fantasy, and one that I’ve recommended enthusiastically for quite a while.

I think I read this series for the first time when I was maybe nine or ten years old, and I fell completely in love with it. Alanna’s world of magic and battles and rogues completely captivated me, and I devoured all four books in the span of a week. It was instantly added to my mental list of favorite fantasies, as well as my list of favorite books, period.

One of the reasons I love this series so very much is the pure action and excitement of it. Alanna is constantly surrounded by risks and danger–the danger of being discovered, of not succeeding, of not winning a battle. And the stakes only get higher and higher as the series goes on, finally culminating in an epic final showdown.

I think one of the most interesting things about a book series is being able to look back on it after it is finally finished–at the character development, the growing complexity of the plot, the ebb and flow of the broader story. But it is also interesting to look at those things years later, with a higher level of maturity and a new perspective.

With that in mind, one of the things that most strikes me about The Song of the Lioness is how very feminist it is. It may have been the most feminist book I’d read up to that point in my life, despite my not realizing it at the time. Alanna is a very real, very human young girl who we get to watch develop into an older teenager and then into a full adult. She is complicated, flawed, and brave, and a steadfast believer in the idea that she should have the same opportunities as any boy in Tortall, no matter how rich in money or status he may be. She knows that girls are strong, capable, and more than deserving of respect, and that message is conveyed in every book in the series. I love that Alanna recognizes the systematic sexism of her kingdom’s laws, and promptly says eff it all and does what she wants anyway. And I think that was very important to see, as a young reader, as well as pretty awesome in and of itself.

This series also never fails to make me happy in that it never shows Alanna as anything other than in complete control of her own body. Alanna is aware that her body belongs to her and never anyone else, and that what she wants to do with it is entirely her own decision. As she matures and we watch her grow up, she makes it clear that she owns herself and her sexuality, and not once is she ashamed of it. Tamora Pierce writes frankly about the female body, puberty, and even safe sex, and to me, the idea that these things can and should be discussed, and the idea that women are in charge of their bodies, is something that is very important to see in Young Adult lit–fantasy or otherwise. Seeing these feminist attitudes present throughout the series was an important reason I fell in love with it, and another reason that I recommend this series so enthusiastically.

One of the things that is so engrossing about The Song of the Lioness–and really any series–is that we as readers get to watch Alanna grow and mature throughout the whole thing. A person who began as a courageous and reckless child grows into a mature and experienced (if still somewhat reckless) woman. It’s fascinating, in its own way, and one of the great joys of reading the series in the first place (that, plus all the excitement of Alanna’s world). The Song of the Lionness is arguably one of the first series I ever read that was truly YA, and I fell completely head over heels in love with it. It’s fun, captivating, and I wanted to stay in its magical, feminist world forever. Even if I’d be useless at swordfighting.

That being said, this has been Saturday Afternoon Rambling with Nora. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend, and take care! And don’t get in too many swordfights.

–Nora

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (I’m Back!)

Hello everyone!

So, that was quite the long, unofficial hiatus. My senior year of high school is getting closer and closer to being done (I finished a year-long project and I swear, I can’t remember the last time I felt so relieved), and while there is still work to do (AP exams, deciding on a college, etc.), I’ve really been enjoying the little extra bits of free time that have been cropping up.

One of the things I’ve been having a lot of fun getting back into is, of course, reading. Reading books separate from school is something I never get to do as much as I’d like, but it’s been pretty wonderful to have been working through some here and there. So, as a little back-to-blogging update, here are a few of the books I’ve been diving into lately:

1. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I got this as a Christmas present and was immediately interested by that lovely, old-fashioned cover. Why does the woman look so sad? What about the man through the window?

The woman, as I quickly found out, is naïve Sophia Fairclough, recently married to young painter Charles, to the immense chagrin of everyone in his family. Unfortunately, Sophia’s marriage dreams are soon compromised by poverty, unexpected babies, and a husband who is horrified at the thought of getting a job. She eventually becomes the mistress of an art critic named Peregrine, but finds that that only leads to more problems.

While Sophia is indeed naïve and doesn’t always make the best decisions, I found her unguarded, candid narrative easy to fall into, and I couldn’t help but feel for her as she tried to make a life in a world that seems especially tailored to make it difficult. I seethed at the harsh nature of some of the other characters, and felt relieved whenever something went right for once. All in all, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a book that held my attention from start to finish, and often left me holding my breath in the hope that maybe, just maybe, things would look up.

2. In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe

It took quite a long time for me to work my way through this one, but oh, was it worth it. I began taking an AP Art History course this year because I was so interested in the stories behind some of the pieces in museums, and reading Roe’s account of the group of artists and Bohemians that gave rise to cubism and other new artistic techniques only cemented my interest. The book begins with Pablo Picasso’s first visit to Paris in 1900, and ends after the emergence of new, dramatic forms of expression that had already changed the art world in ways few would have expected. It is obvious that everything was meticulously researched, and anecdotes about some of the key figures of the time (Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, etc.) made me laugh multiple times. While some of the more philosophical ideas regarding art took some time to absorb at first, I have always loved reading about the lives of the people behind the masterpieces, and In Montmartre definitely delivered. I think I’d like to the dive into The Private Lives of the Impressionists next.

3. the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelacethe princess saves herself in this one

This one feels a little bit like cheating since I actually read it at the end of last year, but it was so good that it’s showing up on this list nonetheless. I read this captivating poetry collection in one night and was instantly sucked in. Amanda Lovelace’s poems are fantastic and cutting–they’re about abuse, fat-shaming, love, and learning to value yourself. I loved the blend of feminism and allusions to fairytales, evident even in the four parts that make up the whole book: The princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. By turns angry, hurt, comforting, and full of joy, the princess saves herself in this one is one of those books that I finished quickly and immediately wanted to read all over again.

4. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Continuing with the feminism theme, I was overjoyed when my copy of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World was delivered early back in January (even before the official release date!). Here We Are is an utterly amazing anthology on feminism and all its forms, covering everything from mental illness, to body image, to intersectionality. There are over fifty pieces in all, and they are all just as diverse and wonderful as the contributors themselves. I was constantly struck by just how much is covered by the book, and how many different stories and issues are contained within. They made me angry, they made me rage, they made me feel ready to dismantle the patriarchy piece by piece. They also made me think about my own privilege as a white, straight, cisgender girl, and how my experience varies so much from those of other girls. However, one of the feelings I hadn’t expected to feel as much before I opened the pages was the feeling of being comforted. There is a sheer respect and love for all women and girls, especially young ones, that radiates from every page, and it is hard to describe just how much of a strong connection that creates between the book and the reader. If I ever have a daughter, I cannot wait to give her a copy of Here We Are for her birthday. It is without a doubt one of the best books of the year.

5. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

I actually just started reading The Star Side of Bird Hill a few days ago, so I haven’t gotten very far, but I am already enjoying it. It focuses on two sisters, sixteen-year-old Dionne and ten-year-old Phaedra, who are spending the summer in Barbados with their grandmother since their mother can no longer care for them back in Brooklyn. Jackson’s writing is lovely, and I am truly loving getting to know each of the characters. Dionne and Phaedra are both different but complex, as is their mother, Agnes, and the ways in which Jackson gives the reader a look into the minds of each of them is wonderful. I can’t wait to finish it, and I hope I have enough time within the next couple of weeks to do just that.

One the things that has been best about finally getting back into reading things outside of school is remembering just how comforting falling into a good book can be, especially when every New York Times alert that pops up on my phone fills me with an unpleasant mix of weariness and dread. Staying informed is so important, now more than ever, but being kind to yourself is important too. I’ve been trying to work on finding that balance, and I’m not always good at it, but reading helps ❤

Take care of yourselves, and hopefully I’ll be back soon (or at least within a reasonable amount of time).

Nora

P.S. If you’re wondering how you can help people in Syria, especially after the chemical attack and military strike this week, here is an article that gives several ways to help out–whether it’s donating money or helping out refugees in your own area. There are also many, many other options if you just google “how to help Syria.”

Four Favorite Comfort Reads

Hi everyone! So, I think it’s almost universally acknowledged that Summer 2016 hasn’t been the best it could be. I’ve almost given up even looking at news that isn’t books- or Nationals-related, and I’m seriously considering living under a rock until at least the end of November. 2016 hasn’t been very kind to the world so far.

It’s time like these when I often just want something fun to read–still good, still incredibly well-written, but the kind of book I can just fall into and hopefully come out of feeling a little better. Books for when the real world just doesn’t seem so inviting (although they still pack quite the emotional punch). And so, without further ado, here are four of my favorite comfort reads, the ones I want to turn to again and again.

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I loved so much the first go-round that I had to resist the urge to just reread it right away as soon as I was done. Lara Jean’s world of love letters, romance, and cookie-baking drew me in right away, and watching her banter with her sort-of-boyfriend-sort-of-not Peter K only makes it more fun. It features sisterly love in a way that I couldn’t get enough of, and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, is just as good. It’s a wonderful read to just fall into and enjoy, especially when the front page of the New York Times seems like a bit too much. But be warned: There’s a strong chance it could inspire you to bake to excess, so handle with caution.

2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Many of the books (and shows, and movies) I most like to dive into when I need to take my mind off of things are mysteries. I love the challenge and plot-twists of figuring out who did what, especially when it draws me into a whole new world. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its sequels have an added advantage in that they also feature Flavia de Luce, arguably my favorite protagonist of any mystery ever. She’s eleven, an extremely skilled chemist with a strong interest in poisons, and precocious as all get-out to boot. I absolutely adore her, and watching her track down the story behind the dead man she finds in the garden of her English estate completely captivated me. It’s a great series to just get swept up in, poisons, murders, and all.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

However, as much as I love mysteries, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart reserved solely for fantasies (or just Tamora Pierce, to be honest). Many of my first favorite books were fantasies, and one of my first loves of that genre was  Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness series. Tamora Pierce spins magic and mayhem out of words, and while the books certainly have their fair share of loss and sadness, reading them, to me, always feels a little like coming home. It comes complete with plot twists and sword fights and romance, not to mention all the magic! (And the completely unabashed feminism, hallelujah.) I’m not sure that I could actually think of a fantasy I’d recommend more, although Ella Enchanted is certainly in the running. In any case, if I ever need to distract myself from the rest of the world for awhile, Alanna is one of the first things that pops into my head.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It took me ages to finally get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with it in a way that makes me want to return to it whenever I need to forget about stuff and just spend some quality time with a really good book. Anna’s story of transferring to a high school all the way across the Atlantic, becoming best friends with history-obsessed Étienne St. Clair, and trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love totally sucked me in, and then refused to let go. I fell in love with hilarious, film-loving Anna, and all of the other characters felt just as real and genuine. And the setting only makes diving into Anna’s world more fun–I could have happily read about her adventures in Paris for days.

I love books like these because they have the power to pull you into another world completely, spinning you away into these fun, exciting stories when the real world is just a bit too much. They are full of excellent plots, well-written characters, and magic both figurative and literal, and I loved falling into each and every one of them. The world kinda sucks sometimes, but at least there are books like these to help us along. Also chocolate 🙂

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and take care!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.” –Lloyd Alexander

My Favorite Books of 2015

Oh my god, it’s winter break. So much sleep. So much reading. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems only right to tally up some of the best books I read this year and decide which ones were my absolute favorites, and oh my goodness were there some really amazing ones. To make it a little bit easier, I’ve split them up by genre this time around.

Fantasy

I really gravitated towards contemporaries this year, meaning that I also really stepped back from fantasy for awhile, which is a little strange considering fantasy books are a large part of what made me fall in love with reading and start this blog in the first place. (Hence the first review being about The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.) But that does not at all mean that I don’t still adore great fantasy books, and oh my god were there some fantastic ones.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes was the first fantasy I read after a looong stretch of mostly reading contemporaries, and it was the best re-introduction into the genre I could have asked for. This story of two very different characters living under the rule of the brutal Martial Empire–Laia, a slave girl, and Elias, an extremely accomplished soldier–is absolutely captivating, filled with complex characters and a plot that makes you feel like you’re constantly holding your breath as you turn the pages. There’s magic, an amazing setting, and some of the highest stakes I’ve ever read about, and it is fantastic. This is the kind of book I want to throw into people’s faces just so they’ll read it and can freak out about it with me. Especially Helene, because oh my god Helene. (I also went to a book event featuring Ms. Tahir at Politics and Prose in D.C., and she is absolutely lovely, not to mention hilarious.) (Full review here.)

The Wrath and the DawnThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is another fantasy that grabbed me, pulled me in, and refused to let go. Renée Ahdieh’s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights is so full of talent and skill that it still makes my head spin, and its story of Shahrzad and Khalid swept me up and made it near-impossible to put the book down for even a second. Shahrzad and Khalid are both so amazing and complex, not to mention all the other characters, and I fell in love with them so completely that I think I’m still recovering. Ahdieh’s writing is downright gorgeous, and she paints the world of Khorasan so masterfully that it only absorbed me even more. I loved so many things about this book–the plot, the characters, and especially the friendship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina, because yes to awesome female friendship in books. Not to mention the romance, which made me fall in love so completely that it’s arguably the best ship I read about all year. This book made me forget lunch, guys. It’s so good. (Full review here.)

White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching 2

White is for Witching is the most recent fantasy I read, and it’s also one of the most interesting things I picked up all year, nightmares and fairy tales mixed with the very real dangers of the world into a captivating cocktail. Helen Oyeyemi’s tale about Miranda Silver, and the lives of the Silver women who came before her, is something like labyrinth, weaving together what is real and what is not, what is light and what is dark, and and what the reader can and cannot trust. She writes in a way that draws the reader in and then doesn’t let them go, and uses the magic and darkness of her story to also touch on the very real issues of our world. Miranda and the other characters are drawn in a way that makes them feel real and human, despite the supernatural voices that haunt their lives, and the narration is done in such an interesting way that I was caught almost from the beginning. It’s the kind of story that you just can’t look away from, and I loved being swept up in it. (Full review here.)

Contemporary

This year led to me realizing that contemporary is one of my favorite genres in pretty much ever–I love reading about characters in high school, going to work, carrying out their lives in the very same times we live in. While there likely isn’t going to be any pixie dust or dragons, contemporaries can have some amazing stories, and falling headlong into some of them this year led to a lot of great discoveries.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 2The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If I had to name one book I read this year that was closest to my favorite, it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I’d been meaning to read this book for ages, and when I received it as a present at the start of the summer, it wasn’t long before I finally tried it. Junot Díaz writes in a way that I fell in love with, and I adored learning about Oscar’s life and those of the people around him, especially the unnamed narrator that we finally meet more than halfway through the book. He narrates in a voice that draws the reader in and makes it incredibly hard to escape, and the characters are all so human and flawed that by the end I felt as if I really knew them. The plot covers generations of Oscar’s family, taking the reader from his home in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again, and it’s filled with conflict, romance, and tons and tons of stories. I loved it so much that I bought the short story collections Drown and This Is How You Lose Her right afterward, which were just as amazing, and my only regret is that I sped through them so quickly that now I don’t have anything else new from Díaz to read. Let the rereading commence.

Purple Hibiscus 2Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is another contemporary I read this year that I became completely absorbed in and absolutely loved. I’d never read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before, and her first novel was more than enough to convince me to read anything else by her that I can get my hands on. Purple Hibiscus focuses on the lives of Kambili and Jaja, two children living in the household of their fanatically religious father, and Adichie tells the story of their growth and education (particularly while visiting their aunt’s family in Nsukka) in a way that makes it all seem so real and vibrant that I was totally drawn in. She paints the picture of Kambili’s family’s lives in a way that makes the reader feel as if they actually know them, and each of the characters is incredibly real, with their own complex emotions and desires. I loved getting to read about all their conflicts, both internal and external, and part of me wishes that the book had gone on much longer just so I could have read more.

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the many great books of 2014 that I missed out on, but I absolutely adored falling into it this past spring. The story of Lara Jean Song and her hidden (and then not-so-hidden) love letters totally drew me in, full of cookie-baking, fake dating, and sisterly love. I loved getting to know these characters, especially Lara Jean and Peter K, and it was so much fun to see the way they bounced off each other and interacted. Han’s writing and Lara Jean’s narration was as addicting as the cookies Lara Jean bakes, and I loved reading about her family’s interactions and her friendship with her sisters. This is the kind of book that I started reading and just couldn’t stop, and when everything was mixed together–the characters, the details, the romance–it made my little reader heart so very happy 🙂 Not to mention more than a little hungry.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineAn Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman follows a plot that is just about as far away from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as possible, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it just as much. Rabih Alameddine’s story of a 72-year-old woman working as a translator in her book-filled apartment in modern Beirut was incredibly hard to put down, especially because of the amazing narration of Aaliya, the main character. Aaliya’s voice is one that I fell completely in love with, telling her own stories and those of other characters in a way that made her almost irresistible. She has the best way of putting things, full of wry and cutting remarks, and describes them in a way that made my weakness for amazing descriptions all the more apparent. She paints a picture of Beirut that made it seem so real I could almost reach out and touch it, a city wracked by the Lebanese Civil War and home to everything she loves. I loved seeing everything through Aaliya’s eyes, and the other characters were just as much fun to read about, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always interesting. What made it even better was Aaliya’s deep and abiding love of books, written in a way that made it seem as if it was almost a living thing, radiating from the pages. It’s yet another one of my weaknesses, and for that I adored the book all the more.

Historical Fiction

When I came to this category, I realized that I read very little historical fiction this year, which is a definite lamentable fact. Historical fiction can be so extremely well done (see: Ann Rinaldi), and I’m not entirely sure how I ended up reading so little of it these past 12 months. Hopefully I’ll get to some really amazing reads in 2016, but for now, there is one book that totally bowled me over in a way that only the best books can.

The Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I finished The Valley of Amazement about two days ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. It’s the first Amy Tan book I’ve ever read (I know I’m disappointed too), and after finishing it late at night it took me forever to finally fall asleep, because oh my god feelings everywhere. Tan tells the story of Violet Minturn, a young girl growing up in her mother’s courtesan house in Shanghai during the early 20th century. But when a web of lies ends with Violet being forced to become a virgin courtesan, it sends her on an entirely different track in life, one that Tan captures with so much mastery it left me wondering what to do with myself after I was finished. Tan’s writing is amazing, and the story of Violet’s life, interspersed with those of the myriad of other characters, made it near-impossible to put the book down. Each of the characters is original and flawed, and by the end I felt as if they had actually existed, wondering what happened to them after the pages were closed. The writing itself only drew me in more, capturing the expansiveness of the story and switching capably between different points of view. It tackles feelings of love, hate, and abandonment, and I loved it so much that my only problem now is moving on from it and picking which of Tan’s books to read next.

Nonfiction

Like historical fiction, nonfiction is not a genre that I focused on very much this year, despite my newfound love of historical musicals about Alexander Hamilton (seriously, don’t get me started because I could ramble on about Hamilton for literally hours without pausing) (>resists the urge to start singing<). But of course, there is one book that stands out as one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, and also ever.

March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate March--Book TwoPowell

I adored the first book in Congressman John Lewis’s March series for many reasons–the illustrations, how vibrantly it tells the story of his childhood, the look it gives into the Civil Rights Movement. And I was just as captivated by March: Book Two, if not more so. It’s true that it’s very different from the first book–it’s more violent, more mature, and it gives a much deeper look into the people of the movement and the challenges they faced. Lewis writes unapologetically about these challenges, describing in detail the vicious brutality with which the protests were met, as well as the conflict within the movement itself. Powell’s illustrations only make the book more absorbing and striking, stark black-and-white images accompanying each of Lewis’s words. It brings the racism and brutal history of our country–one built on the genocide and exploitation of black people–to terrifying life, in a way that made me more furious than any other book this year. It’s the kind of book that I want everyone to read, especially in times when the racism of the United States is still alive and well and affecting people in a million ways. It tells a story that’s wholly human and that needs to be told, and if there’s one book people read from this list, I hope it’s this one. (Full review here.)

And that’s about it for my favorite books of 2015. I’m hoping I’ll find myself reading many more in the next year, and hopefully (>crosses fingers<) writing about them as much as I can. It’s true that I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to this year, but many of the books I did get to were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. And now I’m going to go make Christmas cookies, because it doesn’t need to be the actual holiday to use copious amounts of decorative sugar.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year!

–Nora

P.S. I feel like it says something that the little blurbs I write for books are now just about as long as the first reviews on the blog. A master of brevity I am not.

Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.

Happy Galentine’s Day!: My Favorite Female Characters

Hi everyone! So, until about half an hour ago, I had no idea what Galentine’s Day was. All I knew was that it happens to be today, February 13th, and I saw it mentioned on Twitter a few times. But, as this article has so helpfully told me, Galentine’s Day is a day for celebrating women. Or, as the article says, ladies celebrating ladies. It was first mentioned on an episode of Parks and Recreation, and while I admittedly haven’t seen very much of the show (I’m so sorry please don’t hit me), I thought the idea sounded pretty cool. And then that made me want to write about some of the favorite lady characters I’ve read about. The only thing is that I have to head to bed soon so if this is slightly less coherent then usual, you have my sincerest apologies. Okay cool female characters go.

Hermione1. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowing

Hermione was the first character that popped into my head when I was thinking about this post, and there are many, many reasons why. Hermione is so purely awesome–she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s kind. But she’s also very human and flawed. She’s amazingly good at magic, and I wish I was half as hardworking as she is, because then I would be so much better at not procrastinating on, oh, everything. We all know Harry and Ron would be totally lost without her. Plus, she’s a total bookworm, so of course I relate to her on a deeply personal level.

2. Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora PierceAlanna

If there is one book character that makes me want to bow down and gush about how cool I think she is, it’s probably Alanna of Trebond. Alanna is without a doubt one of the most awesome characters I’ve read about–she disguises herself as boy for years as she trains to be a knight of the realm in her home of Tortall. Of course, this isn’t easy, especially when she finds herself making a very, very powerful enemy. I think what I love most about Alanna is how fiery and tough she is. She is completely herself (despite the whole disguising herself as a boy thing), and she’s also feminist in a way that makes my heart do a tap dance of joy. If you have yet to read the Song of the Lioness series, for the love of God, please do. Alanna is fantastic. And I am endlessly jealous of the fact that she can both swordfight and do magic.

Lizzie Bright3. Lizzie Bright Griffin from Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy a long time ago, and I really need to pick it up again, but Lizzie Bright Griffin had a lot to do with why I loved it so much. She’s smart and clever and not afraid to speak her mind, and she changes the life of Turner Buckminster in a myriad of ways. She’s brave, too, even in the face of the prejudice and racism she faces from the white people near where she lives. She truly is bright, in every sense of the word. Just please don’t make me talk me talk about the ending because tears. There will be tears everywhere. (Also, this book is both a Newbery and a Printz Honor, which I think is pretty cool.)

Lizzy Bennet4. Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

Oh, Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen referred to her as “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print,” and I don’t blame her in the least. We’re reading Pride and Prejudice for my English class right now, and I love being able to rediscover how much I adore Lizzy’s character. She’s intelligent and witty and kind, while also being flawed. She’s very human, and so, so much fun to read about. I think she’s definitely my favorite character in the book, with Darcy coming in as a close second.

Hazel5. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

>sobs violently into pillow<

Ahem. Anyway.

Hazel is one of my favorite things about The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel has cancer, yes, but that is by no means all there is to her character. I love her voice in the novel, the way she describes things and the things she says. I love that she says things like, “Suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” She’s smart and nerdy and honest, and has a bit of a smart mouth, which means I’m pretty much guaranteed to like her. Also, she has such a love of books, and I am a sucker for characters who love books. (Also people who love books.) (Also she loves poetry, so extra points.)

Phillis6. Phillis Wheatley from Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons by Ann Rinaldi

Ann Rinaldi’s books are so ridiculously good, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is one of her best. It covers years of Phillis Wheatley’s life, from childhood to adulthood, and I loved being able to read about her character. Phillis is tough and smart, not to mention kind and complex. She adores writing, and I loved reading about her discovery of it, of her writing the poems that people still read today. I couldn’t put this book down, and part of me (or all of me) wishes there was a sequel could I keep reading about Phillis forever.

Amelia7. Amelia McBride from the Amelia Rules! series

The Amelia McBride comics are some of my favorites in pretty much ever. I remember devouring these books when I was in elementary school, and they can still suck me in. Amelia is the glowing main character and narrator, and I loved reading about her adventures with her friends, superhero escapades and all. She’s spunky and clever, and doesn’t always know when to keep her mouth shut, which somehow makes her even more likable. The Amelia Rules! books are some of my favorite graphic novels of all time, and a lot of that is due to Amelia herself. Not to mention that her Aunt Tanner is absolutely awesome.

Alexandra Bergson8. Alexandra Bergson from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Alexandra is arguably one of the coolest characters in fiction ever. She grows up on the prairies of Nebraska, and almost single-handedly turns their family’s plot of land into a prosperous farm, with help from her brothers and friends. Alexandra is incredibly intelligent and smart, and I wish I had some of the persistence and energy that she does. Then again, thank god I don’t live on the prairie, because I wouldn’t survive a day.

Little Women9. Beth and Jo March from Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Believe it or not, I actually hadn’t read Little Women until just this past Christmas, >ducks to avoid thrown tomatoes<, but I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading about all the March sisters, but Beth and Jo are without a doubt my favorites. Jo is endlessly spirited and clever, and Beth is the kind of character I want to hug for ages and then make cookies for. I loved Jo’s spunkiness, as well as reading about her writing, and I wish I could be even half as sweet as Beth is. There’s a reason I was sitting up in bed weeping in the middle of the night when I got to you-know-what. They may just be my favorite characters in the entire book. (Also, it thrills me to no end that Katharine Hepburn plays Jo in the movie adaptation. It seems so fitting.)

Dealing with Dragons10. Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

This was one of my favorite fantasy series as a kid, and it still is. Cimorene is a princess, sure, but she doesn’t exactly want to be, nor does she want to get married. So, of course, she runs away and lives with a dragon. And that’s just the beginning. Cimorene is adventurous and smart and wry in a way that I love, and her friendship with the dragon, Kazul, is actually one of my favorites in the whole series. I have half a mind to go back and read about Cimorene all over again. Plus, she makes an excellent cherry jubilee.

There are many, many other characters I could think of to add to this list, but I’m afraid that’s all for now. Also, I should really be getting to bed. So Happy Galentine’s Day to all, and to all a good night!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

P.S. Yes, I know that quote is magnificently out of season. Please don’t judge me. I miss our Christmas tree.

P.P.S. Also Flavia de Luce from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. A precocious 11 year old chemist who solves mysteries and has a specialty in poisons–what more could you want?